Seniors having trouble navigating COVID-19 vaccination in Oregon

In some cases, driving to the Oregon Convention Center just won’t work.

PORTLAND, Ore — With the fast approaching eligibility date for seniors in Oregon to qualify for COVID-19 shots on February 8, there are many unanswered questions.

Some are basic, like: Will those who have trouble driving really need to find a way to the Oregon Convention Center to get their shot? How will they sign up to get that vaccination in the first place?

In the greater Portland area, the Oregon Convention Center is the primary location to get the COVID vaccine. It’s on a busy street on Portland’s east side, and not a problem for most people to reach.

But for those in their golden years, things that were simple can be a bit more tricky and life a bit more of an adventure, just ask 78-year-old Barbara Alminiana.

“My husband is going to be 87 in two weeks,” she said. “He has just returned from a six-day stay at Kaiser from his second heart attack, and he also has kidney failure. I have severe mobility problems from arthritis and other conditions. So I use a walker full time.”

Alminiana emailed KGW with her concerns about getting the shot. She said she isn’t able to drive down to the convention center.

“That isn’t going to work for us and that’s been a major source of frustration for me for quite some time,” she said.

Alminiana said she believes she and her husband qualify now for the shots, since their grown children are also their caregivers and they’re at the house helping out five days a week. 

Their kids could give them a ride to the convention center from their home in Clackamas County, but she also worries about long waits.

“I hope that there can be a solution, particularly now that older people are becoming eligible,” she said. “I know they’ll have the same problems or issues I have with going to an indoor site at the convention center, where it’s hard to park, hard to get in and then you have to wait in line.

Last Friday Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said the state is using pharmacies to get vaccine to providers that regularly serve seniors, and is partnering with federally qualified health centers in an effort to reach older Oregonians.

RELATED: Oregon COVID-19 vaccine update: More than 300,000 people have received at least one dose

But Alminiana was unable to find any pharmacy or clinic that would help her.

In addition to the location problem, there is also a sign-up issue. There is no drop-in vaccine clinic in the metro area, you must register for an appointment ahead of time. And the existing online system to get an appointment is tricky for even younger folks. If the state has a simpler option they haven’t shared it.

KGW asked Multnomah County public health how seniors are supposed to schedule appointments for COVID-19 shots and were told they did not know. The state did not respond to the question.

The online portal that health care professionals and educators are using for the tri-county area timed out when we tried to sign up as an Oregon senior.

RELATED: Here’s how Portland metro area residents can register for the COVID-19 vaccine

Alminiana ran a health care office before she retired, so she is not afraid to make a few phone calls. She said she called everyone she could think of, including the OHSU drive-thru clinic, with no luck.

“I just can’t get to the right person to say, ‘What are you going to do to make these shots more accessible for older people and those with disabilities?’ And so far it’s been low level people,” she said. “One of them turned around and talked to a supervisor, but she’s the one who said go to Eugene. Which wasn’t too helpful.”

Have a vaccine story idea for Pat Dooris? Email him at [email protected]

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